The forthcoming gubernatorial election in Ondo State has reignited the battle for the political soul of Yoruba land. Nothing, even dignity is not being spared in the battle.
BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE & DAPO AKINREFON
FOLLOWERS of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo never had it bad as they did penultimate week. In spite of widening fissures in their rank, the leaders never descended to open abuse of one another on the pages of newspapers.
But all that gave way when National Chairman of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Chief Bisi Akande, described top leaders of Afenifere -Chiefs Reuben Fasoranti (Leader), Ayo Adebanjo and Olu Falae as political jobbers, after they endorsed Governor Olusegun Mimiko’s re-election bid. The trio responded in equal measure and the polity is awash with their exchange of brick-bats and mud-slings.
Mimiko is running on the plank of the Labour Party, the only party that diluted the ACN’s dominance of the Southwest. ACN is bent on stopping Mimiko and the aim could be jeopardised by the endorsement and support the governor has got from Afenifere.
In the beginning
The Awolowo political family has always had its enemies within the South-West but had always managed to remain the dominant political force right from the pre-independence era.
The only hiatus was in 2003 when a political tsunami unfurled by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) threw overboard all the Alliance for Democracy (AD) governors with the exception of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Lagos.
The six AD governors then – Segun Osoba (Ogun), late Adebayo Adefarati (Ondo), Bisi Akande (Osun), Lam Adesina (Oyo), Niyi Adebayo (Ekiti) and Bola Tinubu (Lagos) rode on the back of Pan-Yoruba socio-economic and political organisation, Afenifere, to get to power. Their re-election bid also had the nod of Afenifere, which was led by staunch and die-hard followers of the late sage, Awolowo.
What could arguably be regarded as a blunder on the part of Afenifere leaders happened in 2002, a few months to the 2003 elections. Olusegun Obasanjo, who won the presidency without the votes of his native South-West, sought the backing of Afenifere and got it. AD did not field a presidential candidate in line with the agreement. Tinubu warned the leaders against the arrangement saying that it would back-fire but he was ignored. But alas, Tinubu was right. The other five governors, who went along with Afenifere’s decision, were decisively beaten at the polls and Tinubu was left as the only AD governor.
From thence, Tinubu became a rallying point of sorts for the AD and younger elements of Afenifere. In no time, they formed the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), to protect the political and economic interests of the zone.
Things took a turn for the worse following the death of the Afenifere leader, Abraham Adesanya death in 2008. The body became factionalised with Senator Ayo Fasanmi, who deputized for Adesanya after Ige’s death leading a faction and Chief Fasoranti leading other. While Fasanmi insisted he was the authentic leader, Fasoranti countered saying that Pa Adesanya asked him to hold fort while alive. Fasoranti had the backing of Afenifere elders while Fasanmi had the endorsement of Tinubu. It took a long time before the matter was resolved in favour of Fasoranti but then Afenifere was no longer a close-knit organization as it used to be.
There was also a battle for the soul of AD among these contending forces, which Tinubu’s camp won. Afenifere leaders had to form a new party, Progressive Action Congress (PAC) and later Democratic Peoples Alliance (DPA).
Meanwhile, the PDP governors, led by Otunba Gbenga, who took over from the AD men in the South-West moved closer to late Pa Awolowo’s family alongside Afenifere leaders. They held a series of meetings at the Ikenne, Ogun State home of Awolowo. Most of these meetings were boycotted by the Tinubu camp.
Ahead the 2007 elections, Tinubu led the mainstream AD into an alliance with other political parties to from the Action Congress (AC), which is now Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). The ACN through the ballot box and law courts recovered all the South-West states except Ondo in the 2007 polls.
The intense battle for Ondo
With Ondo being the only South-West state that is not witnessing the broom revolution, ACN leaders are bent on adding the state, the only oil-producing state in the zone to their kitty and Afenifere leaders are saying ‘no’ to this quest with their endorsement of Mimiko for second term.
Thus, when the likes of Fasoranti, Adebanjo and Falae endorsed Mimiko it was not surprising that it angered Akande, who described them as political jobbers. Their offence was that they openly supported the second-term bid of Governor Mimiko.
“The three of them”, Akande declared, “are glorious political beggars who have lost relevance in the nation’s politics.”
According to him, “the so-called leaders are only looking for what they will eat. Of what relevance are they? They cannot point to any individual as their followers even in their home state. Falae, for instance has always brought bad luck to any political party he belongs to. He brought bad luck to the Alliance for Democracy in 1999.”
On Fasoranti, Akande quipped: “Fasaronti on his own was the man who single handedly ruined the pan Yoruba socio-cultural group; Afenifere and Ayo Adebanjo has never contested any election in his life. He only prides himself as a Yoruba leader without any follower. How do you rate the acceptability of a politician who has never contested any election in his life?”
Akande, a former governor of Osun State said “we don’t pray to have such politicians in the ACN because we don’t want bad luck in our party. We are happy with where they are and we wish Mimiko the best as they take their bad luck to him and his political party.”
Adebanjo chides Akande
Countering, Adebanjo, a strong Awoist, lampooned the ACN national chairman for his utterances.
Adebanjo described the remarks that the Yoruba group’s support for Governor Mimiko’s second term bid on the platform of Labour Party (LP) was because the leaders are out to collect crumbs from the governor’s table, as irresponsible.
“If Bisi Akande, the figure head Chairman of the ACN (which the Yorubas will call Ologomugomu chairman), had confined his criticism of me in his interview to my not being an electoral asset because I have never contested any election in this country, I would have ignored him and would not have bothered to dignify his ignorant and ill-informed statement, which has become his sing-song criticism of me without any response.”
Continuing, he said “the reason for this is simple. He is too junior to me politically for me to enter into political disputation with him. But when he opened his mouth so wide to call me, his political leader, who was the chairman of the party AD on whose platform he contested and won the election to become the governor of Osun State in 1999-2003, a fake Awoist, I believe Bisi Akande is indeed what the Yorubas will call Omo Atiro to lo ra bata fun baba e, oro lofe gbo (the son of a lame father who thoughtlessly bought a pair of shoes for his father, he needs to be reminded the physical position of his father”).
Continuing, he said “In the first place, where is Bisi Akande coming from to be qualified to define who is an “Awoist”? Because Awoists have existed in the 50s long before the late Chief Bola Ige recruited him from the NCNC into the UPN in 1979 and made him an emergency deputy governor to replace the late Chief Sunday Afolabi, who had decamped from the party to join the NPN. Bisi Akande was the beneficiary of the plum political office of deputy governor because he comes from the same constituency as Chief Sunday Afolabi otherwise his senior members of the party like Senator Mojisola Akinfenwa, Hon. Lere Adebayo, Chief Abayomi Morakinyo, who were already in Chief Bola Ige’s cabinet, would have been considered. These gentlemen, in spite of any political disagreement, will not refer to me as a fake Awoist.”
Who an Awoist is
Shedding more light on who truly is an Awosit, Adebanjo enthused: “Now, who is an ‘Awoist’ and when did the term “Awoism” enter Nigeria political lexicon? The populist political philosophy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, which encompasses welfare programs among which are free education, free medical services, integrated rural development and full employment with which he painstakingly administered the old Western Region from 1952-1959, acclaimed world-wide, was termed Awoism.”
“He was acclaimed the leader of progressive politics in Nigeria and his members and believers in these combined attributes are known and called “Awoists”; I was a known leading member and mobiliser of the party during this period. I ask, where was Bisi Akande during this period and what role did he play to be in a position to pontificate on who is an “Awoist”?
“The pastime criticism of me by Chief Bisi Akande is that I have no electoral value and that I have never contested and won an election. If this is the criteria of judging an “Awoist” from the jaundiced eyes of Chief Bisi Akande , I plead I am happy to be in the good company of past leaders of the party like Chief S.O Shonibare (one of the founders of the A.G) Chief Afred Rewane, Chief S.O Lanlehin, Dr.J Akanni Doherty, Chief Ladipo Amose all of blessed memory who laboured faithfully to popularise the Action Group with the philosophy of Awoism and never contested election.
“But let me state for the record and political education of political neophytes like Bisi Akande who was only brought to political relevance by the late Chief Bola Ige of blessed memory. I contested and won election to Ijebu-Ode Local government from my ward in Ogbo/Okelamuran/Ikoto in 1976 under a zero party election following the ban of political parties by the military.”
“The election was more on the candidate’s individual popularity, since political party platform was banned. It was an election that did not allow an unpopular candidate to be elected under a popular political party platform. The late Chief Bisi Onabanjo of blessed memory also won from Ijebu-Ode ward and was elected chairman of the council.”
“While justifying his decision to throw his weight behind the second term bid of Governor Mimiko, he said he had no regrets whatsoever. “I have no regret that I with other Afenifere leaders visited Dr Olusegun Mimiko to demonstrate our open support for his declaration for second term election as governor of Ondo State. His performance in the last three and a half years in Ondo State should be a pride to any lover of good governance. His achievements are consistent with the ideals and philosophy of Awoism.
“Those who have been regular visitors to Ondo State in the last three and a half years would testify to the fact that the tenets of his administration have been to the betterment of the masses of Ondo State in all its ramifications.”
“Don’t forget Mimiko was himself a member of the AD before he had occasion to disagree with some individuals in the party that made him to leave for another party – the Labour Party. His political programes show he is still keeping faith with the ideals and philosophy of Awoism. And for this he deserves our support; just as I would have supported Governor Babatunde Fashola if Asiwaju Bola Tinubu had jettisoned him for his second term as he had threatened to do although I am not a member of ACN.
“It is cheap blackmail and gratuitous insult for Chief Akande to allege that our support for Mimiko was to collect crumbs from his table. Chief Akande should tell the whole world what crumbs I collected from his table when he was governor of Osun State and I was the chairman of the party. Such unguarded and irresponsible statement is least expected from somebody who is a chairman of a national party however figurative he may be holding the post. Afenifere stands behind Mimiko for his second term as solidly as the Rock of Gibraltal,” he stated.
Afenifere comes hard on Akande
Rising to the defend of its elders, Afenifere described Akande’s statement as regrettable.
Its General Secretary, Chief Seinde Arogbofa, said Akande’s action “smacks of disrespect for elders, which is a core Yoruba culture.”
According to Arogbofa, “the decision to support the second term bid of Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State which drew the ire of Akande and his ilk was taken in the best interest of Yoruba and not because of inducement from any quarter.”
He, therefore, described Akande’s statement as regrettable and an insult to his elders.
The group’s scribe expressed regret over the comment saying: “I do not expect Chief Akande, a former state governor and once a jolly good Afenifere brother, to have gone to town to call his elder brothers unprintable names.
“I expect that even if his public relations officer went out of his way to insult and be rude, he should have called him to order.”
While accusing the ACN chairman of denigrating the leaders of the group by his statement on their support for Gov. Mimiko’s second-term ambition, the group’s scribe said: “one wonders why an elderly man like him should always resort to venom and bitterness in times of crisis, especially at this late hours of his life. We wonder what legacy he is leaving behind and what time he has left to redeem himself and have a change of heart.”
“Where is the Omoluabi thing they profess they are, when they go out of their way to pour abuses and insults on their elders and impugn the integrity of their superiors?”, he queried.
Speaking further, he noted that “In so far as those of us in core Afenifere are concerned, our voice cannot be bought. Our stand cannot be compromised or negotiated. We are on the side of history and are mindful of tomorrow and aware that the hostility of today can tomorrow give way to mutual understanding.
“How can someone in his right mind say that Chiefs Fasoranti, O. Ajayi, Ayo Adebanjo and Olu Falae, are political jobbers and beggars and that we took money from Mimiko before we supported his second term bid?
“Chief Fasoranti runs one of the best Private Secondary Schools in Ondo State and one of the best Nursery and Primary School and has on his pay role well over 100 people.”
“Both Chief Ajayi and Chief Adebanjo run some of the best legal firms in the country while Chief Falae is more than 90 percent a full time farmer employing well over 100 people in his farm. Apart from this, each of them is blessed with children who can take full care of them. Apart from Lagos governor who has performed to the satisfaction of the elders, it is only Mimiko that has done creditable well among the committee of governors in the southwest geo-political group,” Arogbofa stated.
It’s an ideological conflict —Odumakin
In a telephone chat with Vanguard, a former National Publicity Secretary of the group, Mr Yinka Odumakin, said it was an ideological conflict.
“The election coming up in October where Mimiko is squaring up, has brought an opportunity for the old guard to enact their differences with the Tinubu tendencies by giving support to Mimiko, who was to them loyal to Adefarati. And of course, they have also anchored it on the fact that Mimiko has performed well in office.
“So, that is the basis of what has happened and of course ACN’s strategies is to anchor their campaign on the fact that the Labour Party is not a Yoruba party or that he (Mimiko) remained in the opposition because he has not joined them. But I think by and large, it is a battle for the soul of Yoruba nation in terms of whether you are an Awoist or whether you a re a progressive, which party you belong and what you have done for the people”.
It is sending a signal to the South west that some issues are not yet settled and that it is an ideological conflict. It is a question of whether you are an Awoist or not, it is not about deeds, it is not about words.
The Ondo battle in October, will show which side has been able to win the heart of the people, it depends on what you have been able to do”, he submitted.
As the battle for the soul of Ondo state gains momentum, observers of political events are watching to see which side would emerge victorious at the end of the day.